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Subject: Robert Bourque, Who Created Penny Arcade Wizard

Dies at 82
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Date Posted: March 28, 2003 11:26:15 EDT

Robert B. Bourque, a co-designer of Zoltan the Astrological Wizard, a mechanical fortunetelling machine popular in penny arcades, died last Saturday in Duxbury, Mass. He was 82.

The cause was congestive heart failure, his daughter Linda B. Sullivan said.

An expert repairer of pinball machines, jukeboxes and other mechanical devices, Mr. Bourque built his first Zoltan soothsayer about 1965, working out of his house.

It consisted of a glass box on a pedestal. The box contained the disembodied head of a man in a turban peering into a crystal ball.

People prepared to spend a quarter to learn their future put a coin in the slot and punched in the sign of the zodiac they had been born under. Then they picked up an earpiece and listened to Zoltan's predictions, which were delivered in basso profundo tones.

Those predictions, intended as much for adults as for children, included lucky numbers, future romantic relationships and propitious times for new business ventures.

The rich, deep voice in which they were uttered belonged to Robert Cottle, a lifelong friend of Mr. Bourque who had played the part of Captain Bob on a children's television program in Boston and who became a partner in the Zoltan manufacturing business.

While Mr. Bourque busied himself with making the mechanical innards of the Astrological Wizard, Mr. Cottle designed and sculptured the fiberglass head. The name, which sounds like that of a mythological figure but is found in no dictionary or encyclopedia, was derived from the words "zodiac electronic sultan," because his burnoose gave the mechanical clairvoyant a Turkish look.

Robert Bliss Bourque was born on Aug. 14, 1920, in Brockton, Mass. He married his high school sweetheart, Edith Benoit. Surviving are his son, Robert, of Sandwich, Mass., as well as another daughter, Janet L. McDonough of Duxbury, Mass.

Mr. Bourque developed his expertise in building and repairing coin- operated machines through his work as service manager for Trimount Industries, which distributed such devices in the Boston metropolitan region and was taken over in the 1970's by Rowe International, a manufacturer of jukeboxes, vending machines and change makers.

For a while, Zoltan the fortuneteller proved popular with visitors to beachfronts and piers from New Hampshire to New Jersey. Yet Mr. Bourque's son, Robert, who as a boy helped build the Wizards, said no more than 50 or 60 were produced.

However adept Zoltan was at predicting other people's futures, the great Astrological Wizard failed to spot the swings in public taste that eventually doomed him to near obsolescence.

The dawning of the age of electronic games soon meant that fighting virtual aerial battles on computer screens was much more exciting than listening to gravel-voiced predictions.

Parents, meanwhile, lost their taste for the sort of tongue-in-the-cheek horoscope-casting that Zoltan offered. They turned increasingly to more serious real-life human fortunetellers, who dealt tarot cards or examined palms.

Still, Zoltan may have had one more turn in the limelight.

Zoltar, which is suspiciously close to Zoltan, was the name of a fortunetelling machine in the 1988 film "Big," in which Tom Hanks tells the story of a schoolboy who gets his wish from Zoltar to be grown up. He is transformed into the executive of a toy company but with the mind of the boy he still is.

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